Impact of Failure

Published December 1, 2016 by monika

I have thought a lot about failure. What failure stops us doing, the impact on our immediate projects and ideas, but also the longer term impact on our self-esteem and our willingness to try.

The flip side of this, is that I have also thought about what failure makes possible for us. How it deepens our understanding. How it equips us to tackle the same project again in a different way, or to run the next project better. How we can become mentors to those earlier on their journey, because we’ve tried stuff, and failed, and learned.

Last week I went to a conference run by Catalyst Psychology, a child and educational psychologist community interest company.

The theme for this year’s conference was resilience.

The first presentation in the morning was around failure; the importance of failure and how we should be using failure more in schools.

Nicola Whitton from Manchester Metropolitan University presented on this theme and she spoke about the idea of different failures; Catastrophic failures and micro failures, the fact that there is no room for either within in the education system, and that by not allowing our children to fail, we fail them. They cannot build resilience, they cannot learn how to use failure, they cannot learn different approaches or a deep curiosity, because when things are too easy they are just as boring as when they are too hard.

And so we push out children to succeed, and to bypass failure, and we tell our teachers they cannot fail, because the results for the school will be catastrophic, and in the end we have a set of lovely results that mean we have children who don’t know the benefit of failure and teachers who are stressed and leaving the profession and we have forgotten what we need to learn.

So we talked about how we can build more micro failures into our children’s day. Perhaps when they build a lego cart and it doesn’t drive properly, so we take it apart and try again. Perhaps when they paint a picture and it doesn’t look like it does in their head and we need to deal with that frustration, perhaps it’s during a fight with a friend and learning how to say sorry and understand each other’s feelings better. Perhaps it’s learning how to deal with a test result that shows you just didn’t understand the spellings or the maths that week.

So what is the impact of getting it wrong? What can we learn?

We learn how to try it differently.

We learn where the weakness is in a theory, a structure, a method.

We remember the correct version more, because we understand why that one works and the others don’t.

We become engaged in a process, and invested in the outcome, because we can see how our own thinking and doing has an impact on what happens next.

What a joyous position for a child to be in – to be invested in their learning and to keep tweaking their way to understanding, to achievement and success.

And what a joyous position for an adult to be in at work or at home – to be invested and engaged with the task at hand, to understand how we can learn from what didn’t work, to hit the delete button when appropriate, to say sorry when needed and move on, to watch how our ideas and our method changes and begins to succeed.

So I shall finish with a quote from the presentation:

I didn’t fail 1000 times. I succeeded in 1001 steps.”